US Senate approves sanctions against Russia over 2016 election
The US Senate has voted overwhelmingly to approve new sanctions against Russia to punish Moscow for meddling in the 2016 election and its aggression in other parts of the world.
The chamber passed the bipartisan sanctions legislation 97-2.
The measure has been attached to a bill imposing penalties on Iran that the Senate is currently debating and also has strong support.
Lawmakers are taking action against Russia in the absence of a forceful response from President Donald Trump.
The president has sought to improve relations with Moscow and rejected the implication that Russian hacking of Democratic emails tipped the election his way.
But Mr Trump's secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, says he agrees with members of Congress who want Russia held accountable for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Russian president Vladimir Putin's "brazen attack on our democracy is a flagrant demonstration of his disdain and disrespect for our nation", Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said ahead of the vote.
"But in the last eight months, what price has Russia paid for attacking American democracy?" he said.
Mr Tillerson offered tepid support for the sanctions measure, but urged Congress to make sure the sanctions legislation does not tie the president's hands and shut down promising avenues of communication between the two former Cold War foes.
He asked lawmakers "to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation".
If the Trump administration decides to oppose the new sanctions, they could be in a bind.
The sanctions measure has been attached to a bill imposing penalties on Iran that the Senate is currently debating and which also has strong bipartisan support.
So the White House would have to reject stricter punishments against Iran, which it favours, in order to derail the parts of the legislation it may object to.
Once the Iran bill is passed, the legislation moves to the House for action.
The leaders of the Senate Banking and Foreign Relations committees announced late on Monday that they had reached an agreement on the sanctions package after intensive negotiations.
The deal was forged amid the firestorm over investigations into Moscow's possible collusion with members of Mr Trump's campaign.
House and Senate committees are investigating Russia's meddling and potential links to the Trump campaign.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a separate probe.
The measure calls for strengthening current sanctions and imposing new ones on a broad range of people, including Russians engaged in corruption, individuals in human rights abuses and anyone supplying weapons to the government of Syrian president Bashar Assad.
Broad new sanctions would be imposed on Russia's mining, metals, shipping and railways sectors.
The measure would punish individuals who conduct what the senators described as "conducting malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government".
Also covered by the sanctions are people doing business with Russian intelligence and defence agencies.
The package would also require a congressional review if a president attempts to ease or end current penalties.
The review mechanism was styled after 2015 legislation pushed by Republicans and approved overwhelmingly in the Senate that gave Congress a vote on whether Barack Obama could lift sanctions against Iran.
That measure reflected Republican complaints that Mr Obama had overstepped the power of the presidency and needed to be checked by Congress.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, said the Senate has finally confronted Russia.
"This bipartisan amendment is the sanctions regime that the Kremlin deserves for its actions," she said.